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How Do I Choose the Best Drip Watering System?

A low flow rate is best for clay soils.
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  • Written By: J.S. Metzker Erdemir
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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Drip irrigation is one of the most efficient watering systems because water is delivered directly to the plants’ roots, and very little is lost to evaporation. A drip watering system helps control weeds by not watering empty soil, and it keeps foliage dry, which helps prevent the spread of mold and disease. Deciding which drip watering system will work best for you depends on the layout of your garden, your plants’ watering requirements, water hardness, and your type of soil.

Soaker hoses and drip tape are the simplest and cheapest type of drip watering system. Soaker hoses are porous plastic hoses that allow water to slowly seep out of them, and drip tape is a flat plastic hose with small holes in it. These work best in densely planted areas of plants with similar watering requirements, as flow rates along the hose are the same and cannot be controlled. If your soil has a lot of clay, it’s best to use a soaker hose above ground, but for loamy or sandy soil, soaker hoses can be buried about 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep, right next to the plants’ roots.

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A more complicated and expensive type of drip watering system uses hoses with emitters or drippers placed at regular intervals. Some kinds of emitters spray a fine mist, which is appropriate for many potted plants and orchids, while others types drip or dribble water and are suitable for a larger variety of garden plants, trees, and shrubs. More expensive types of emitters can be individually adjusted for flow rate, while others will have the same flow rate for an entire section and can be adjusted where the section begins. Emitters are sold according to their size and flow rate. You will need emitters with a higher flow rate for sandy soil, a medium rate for loamy soil, and a lower flow rate is most effective for clay soil and potted plants.

Soaker hoses and drip tape might be difficult to maintain if your water is very hard, because mineral deposits can build up inside the hose and clog the holes. Additionally, they do not work well on slopes. A drip watering system with emitters can be more versatile, because sub-main tubing of varying lengths can be attached to the main hose, and individual sections can be adjusted according to the plants in that area. The emitters must be monitored regularly to check for clogs.

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